According to Scottish football Twitter, the most surprising snub to come out of the PFA Scotland announcements is Celtic captain Scott Brown. And, if you’re looking only at the main award, the Players’ Player of the Year, he most certainly is. There’s a case to be made he’s a more fitting candidate than three of the four selected.
Scott Sinclair is a thoroughly deserving nominee and should take home the award ahead of team-mates Moussa Dembele and Stuart Armstrong, with Jonny Hayes of Aberdeen an unlikely outsider.
Hayes has enjoyed his best season of his career to date, and if anyone was going to gatecrash Celtic’s exclusivity, he’s a fine choice. He’s got seven goals and 17 assists (per STV) this campaign. That’s some incredible production right there. He’s also not your typically flaky winger: match-winner one week; anonymous the next. He’s a reliable team player who works hard off the ball and can be seen continually driving his side forward from deep. But is all of that enough to earn him a nomination above Brown?
Sure, the Celtic man doesn’t have the raw numbers someone like Hayes enjoys, but he’s been Celtic’s most consistent player this year. That makes him the most consistent player on an undefeated team on their way to picking up the treble. Doesn’t that alone guarantee him a nomination? Apparently not.
As for his other club-mates. Armstrong had the highest peak of any player in domestic football this season. There was a period of three months where he was undoubtedly the best player in the league. He controlled matches, showed his abilities on and off the ball, and scored an absolute shed-load of goals from midfield. However, should we really discount the first three months of the campaign, where he played second-string to either Nir Bitton or Tom Rogic in the Celtic midfield? You could call this a classic case of recency bias.
Then there’s Dembele. He seemed a certainty for the award before the winter break, but a combination of injury and his form cooling off means he’s likely to see the award go to fellow Parkhead attacker Sinclair. Dembele now has fewer Premiership goals than Ross County striker Liam Boyce and may well fall behind Motherwell’s Louis Moult before the campaign’s conclusion. In light of those numbers, it’s easy to argue Brown deserved a nod ahead of the Frenchman, even if it would have seemed insane to leave Dembele off the shortlist given the amount of hype that’s followed him since his September hat-trick against Rangers.
So, yes. Of the Player of the Year nominees, Brown is the biggest snub. But he shouldn’t be the most perturbed by today’s duel-announcement.
Two consensus picks for Young Player of the Year have been Dembele and Kieran Tierney. There can be no complaint regarding their inclusion. However, after selecting those two, the next person on every voters’ mind should have been Partick Thistle defender Liam Lindsay.
He’s been a mainstay in a Thistle defence that has the joint-best record (40 conceded) of any club outside the top three. His individual performances have been superb, too. The talent has been there for all to see since his ascension into the first-team last season. He’s athletic, broad and tall, comfortable on the ball, reasonably quick; basically, he’s everything you want in a young centre-back. Those qualities are shining through without the regular game-changing bloopers young centre-backs tend to make.
He’s got a massive future in the game and it’s no surprise some have been calling for his inclusion in the Scotland squad. He wouldn’t merit a start, or get anywhere close to one, but a few younger players have received a keep-at-it-son, call-up of encouragement in recent years. It makes sense to do the same with Lindsay.
Call this writer a horrible skeptic if you must, but if he played for any of Celtic, Aberdeen, Rangers or Hearts, there’s little doubt he’d have been recognised for a terrific season.
He’s more deserving of two players that have received nominations ahead of him: Patrick Roberts and Jason Cummings.
You have to ask yourself this: would Cummings have received a nomination if he wasn’t the most recognisable face in a team that’s one of the five biggest in the country? Fair enough, he’s scored 19 goals this season, and could finish the season as the leading scorer in the Championship for the second time, so it’s not like he’s achieved nothing. But would Jai Quintongo have received that many votes if he’d done the same for Morton? It seems unlikely.
Looking at the top goalscorers in the Championship from recent seasons, for every Adam Rooney, Stevie May and Kris Doolan, there’s a Rory Loy, Colin McMenamin and Mark Stewart. Maybe the second tier has gotten stronger, which Hibs’ cup exploits would certainly suggest, but then there’s Martyn Waghorn’s massive dip in form between last season and this one to counteract that point.
This isn’t to say Cummings is definitely going to drop off, it just means 19 goals in the Championship isn’t worth the same in the top flight. Would a top flight striker (outwith Celtic or Rangers) get a Young Player of the Year nod if they had netted, say, 11 goals? Because that’s what Miles Storey did for Inverness last season, and he didn’t get a nomination.
Then there’s the Patrick Roberts pick. It must be said that there’s usually a pass with Young Player of the Year award contenders when it comes to consistency, either in performance or selection. Such is the dearth of options some seasons, players can be included in the nominees or even win the award if they only play half of their team’s games, or sometimes even fewer. Danny Wilson, for example, won the award in 2010 having played 14 league games for Rangers.
However, on this occasion there were more deserving candidates. And while the Roberts pick doesn’t look so bad now, you have to consider that these selections were made around a month ago. Since that time Roberts has been excellent, but before then he could hardly get a game. Even though a rough opening couple of months Lindsay stood out, and he’s gone from strength to strength as the campaign has continued. He deserved to be recognised for his form.